Basketball: Eagles soar to cut Sharks' lead

Newcastle Eagles closed the gap on the leaders in the British Basketball League with an 83-77 win over Sheffield Sharks at Ponds Forge last night, taking control with a 16-5 run either side of half-time to lead 45-35.

Newcastle Eagles closed the gap on the leaders in the British Basketball League with an 83-77 win over Sheffield Sharks at Ponds Forge last night, taking control with a 16-5 run either side of half-time to lead 45-35.

Sheffield began the game joint top with Chester Jets, London Towers and Brighton Bears, who had also fallen to the in-form Eagles on Thursday night, and opened with a 10-0 run.

But Newcastle, despite still being without the injured playmaker TJ Walker, responded just before half-time as Andrew Sullivan hit seven points and Jeremy Hyatt eight to turn the game away from the home team and climb to just two points behind Sheffield in the table.

The Eagles player-coach Fab Flournoy has been shouldering the back-court responsibility in the absence of Walker, who is recovering from a knee operation, and he hit three free-throws to make the game safe.

The Sheffield coach Peter Scantlebury's preparations were disrupted by injury to 6ft 8in England international forward-centre Richard Windle, who gashed an elbow in the defeat against Brighton before Christmas.

Windle will also miss next Sunday's game against fellow title contenders Towers after aggravating the damage in training before the weekend, and his loss will intensify Scantlebury's search for new players before the transfer deadline on 31 January.

Windle, 28, has been a factor in Sheffield's resurgence since moving into the starting five after Scantlebury released the American Mike Joiner. Windle's injury leaves Sharks weaker at centre and puts pressure on team-mates Sterling Davis and Terrell Petteway.

Sharks are searching for a back-up in case Windle's absence stretches further into 2005. The general manager John Timms said: "We are talking to an English player who has BBL experience." Since sacking Joiner, Sharks also have a slot available for an American import and may chase the former Eagle Niki Arinze, who is not returning to his German club after the Christmas break.

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